The First Asteroid Ever Discovered

Asteroid belt cover

If you happen to be like me, chances are you watched a lot of documentaries and science programs growing up and among all of them, undoubtedly, one of the most fascinating pieces of information was regarding space. As a child, it truly boggled my mind to imagine the vastness of the universe and the potential of life on other planets. However, along with aspiring ideas of space travel, asteroids were proposed as dangerous space rocks, and funnily enough, we all thought that asteroids would be the main problem in our future. Nonetheless, these are intriguing things that exist in space and it’s surprising when the first one was discovered.

What are Asteroids?

Now we have found over 400,000 asteroids in space and this list is continually growing, so it is important to know what these things are in the first place. Asteroids in our solar system can be described as rocky objects in space that orbits the sun much like planets, however, they are significantly smaller in size. Most of these exist in the region between Mars and Jupiter which is also known as the asteroid belt, though some also exist in other parts of the solar system like near the orbits of the planet.

Asteroid pic

A photograph of an asteroid.

Since there are a lot of these, a question is natural that where do these even come from? According to the experts, when our solar system was forming about 4.6 billion years, most of the gases and elements were clustered together and formed our sun and planets, the remaining particles resulted in these asteroids, so in a way, they are the leftovers of the creation. Even though these are the leftovers and one may think they are all the same, each asteroid is unique in its own way as no two asteroids are the same. Unlike planets, these have irregular shapes and they vary greatly in size from some about the size of small stones to some measuring over 100 kilometers and not to mention their composition, some are composed of clay while others are made up of a mixture of clay and metals.

The First-ever discovered Asteroid

You might be expecting that since our technology was not much advanced in the past, we would’ve only discovered substantial asteroids in the 1900s, however, that is not the case. In the year 1801, that is right, 1801, an Italian priest, mathematician, and astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi discovered the first-ever asteroid, even the specific date is mentioned, it was on January 1, 1801, and it is now called Ceres.


A photograph of Ceres.

The discovery of Ceres can be also be vaguely traced back to the 1500s when a German astronomer Johannes Kepler obtained the astronomical data of a Danish nobleman Tycho Brahe who used to observe the night sky. Going through the data, Kepler explained the motion of planets, specifically of Mars which are now known as Kepler’s three laws. In addition to that, he analyzed that there is an unusually large gap between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter which led him to deduce that there must be another planet in that space. Unfortunately, he along with many other astronomers didn’t find any specific planet as they thought they might. This led to a group of people who called themselves Celestial Police took this seriously and began uncovering the mystery between that empty space.

Giuseppe Piazzi colored

A portrait of Giuseppe Piazzi.

Giuseppe Piazzi, as mentioned previously was the first one to discover it. At first, he dismissed it for a dimly lit star, however, upon noticing that it had moved in the position he came to the conclusion it was in fact a body in space. Unfortunately, rough weather and sickness hindered him from finding it for some nights, and finally on the said date after tracking its motion he concluded that this object was a part of our solar system. He named it Ceres, after the Roman goddess of agriculture, fertility, and harvest. Due to the spherical shape of this asteroid, in the year 2006, the International Astronomical Union redefined how we thought of planets and asteroids, meaning now Ceres is considered as a dwarf planet along with Pluto, well, that’s a promotion. Finally, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft orbited Ceres for 3 years from 2015 to 2018 and captured new images of this dwarf planet and allowed scientists to learn more about it, for instance, it is about 473 kilometers in size.

Yes, it was the first asteroid to be ever discovered but can we still call it an asteroid? No, we cannot, it is now a dwarf planet. Who knows, in the future, we might find some new dwarf planets within our solar system.

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